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South Carolina & Fourth Amendment & Riley

In a recent SC Supreme Court case, the court had to determine whether or not a search of a defendant's cell phone violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Facts briefly

Deputies responded to a victim who had been shot in the head and was inside of his car. Three cell phones were inside of the car (2 belonged to the victim, 1 belonged to defendant). Law enforcement removed the SIM card from the defendant's flip phone to retrieve data (the majority and dissent differ as to the degree of data that the SIM card on a flip phone may contain; the majority differentiates a flip phone from a smart phone).

The court of appeals opinion is here.

A previous post on Riley is here.


The supreme court affirmed the court of appeals holding but modified it. The majority held that there was not a Fourth Amendment violation because the search of the SIM card for basic information was not "unreasonable."

The majority also distinguishes this case from Riley (Riley is a Supreme Court case holding that officers may not search a cell phone incident to arrest; "which emphasized the degree of governmental intrusion resulting from warrantless searches of cell phones incident to an arrest due to the wealth of private information contained within modern cell phones."):

The majority also held that assuming arguendo that there was a Fourth Amendment violation, then the exclusionary rule would not be appropriate. The majority held that three exceptions to the warrant requirement would apply (inevitable discovery; independent source; good faith):


The concurring opinion agrees that any Fourth Amendment violation would be cured by either the inevitable discovery or independent source exception. However, the concurrence disagrees with the majority that the good faith would apply because the case law is not currently settled and thus not controlling precedent:


The dissent disagrees with the majority on several issues but the key issue is Riley. The dissent would hold that the search of the flip phone and SIM card falls squarely within Riley and that, absent exigent circumstances, a warrant is needed:

In a footnote, the dissent explains why this situation did not constitute exigent circumstances:

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